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Panchabrihi: How practical is a ‘five-yield-a-year’ rice?

Social media is awash with news of Panchabrihi, a rice variant developed by Dr Abed Chaudhury, which reportedly ‘yields five times a year’. Scientists at BRRI and BARI are not too impressed

Panchabrihi offers farmers an opportunity to yield five times – starting with a Boro, followed by two Aus and two Aman seasons – all in one year. Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain

The story of Panchabrihi, a rice variant developed by scientist Dr Abed Chaudhury, is currently going viral in our social and news media. 

However, the news itself is actually two-years-old. It became viral this week after UNB picked it while covering an event in London where Abed Chaudhury spoke.   

Local media outlets took it from UNB, social media jumped in and ever since, the rice, which ‘yields five times a year’, has been trending.  

“This came in the news before. I was surprised that it is trending on Facebook again,” Dr Abed told The Business Standard from Los Angeles, adding that he was giving speeches at Oxford University and London last week. 

As the name suggests (‘pancha’ means five in Sanskrit), this rice variant is capable of producing yield five times a year from the same plant. 

This means the farmers don’t need to cut off the plants entirely and sow new seeds in the Aus season like they usually do, and then redo this in the Amon season. 

Instead, the Panchabrihi offers them an opportunity to yield five times – starting with a Boro, followed by two Aus and two Amon seasons – all these in one year. 

“You can think of it like a mango tree. Normally, paddy plants die after a single yield, but Panchabrihi regrows after you yield the crops. A single paddy plant keeps growing until it yields five times a year,” Dr Abed told TBS.  

“I am bringing one Boro, two Aus and two Amon seasons from the single plant. People perhaps think that its character will change in Aus, but it is actually the same variety. I call it supraseasonal for it will grow in any season. At first I developed the variety and then developed its multi-harvesting characteristics. There is a lot of science and steps behind this,” he added. 

Dr Abed’s research is based in Moulvibazar’s Kulaura Upazila. He has been conducting research on rice for around 20 years. In future, he wants to develop a variety that will give six yields from the same plant and can extend its life cycle to the second year. 

Research for the sake of research?

This supposed progress in rice research, which generated significant attention from the media, however, does not appear to have impressed local scientists of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) or Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI). 

We reached out to several scientists from BRRI and BARI to understand their perspectives and evaluation of Panchabrihi. 

Among them, the Director of Research at BRRI, Dr Mohammad Khalequzzaman, said they are taking this “positively”, however, “we are investigating the issue at the moment. When we have the report, we will look at it in detail,” he told TBS in brief. 

Chief Scientific Officer and Head of Agronomy Division at BRRI, Dr Md Shahidul Islam, however, said that rice research should have a “connection with reality and utility” and not be “research for research’s sake”. 

“It takes a minimum of three months to complete a life cycle of rice, and in the case of Boro, it takes up to five months. In the case of ratoon crops (ratooning is a type of cultivation where a second crop is allowed to grow from the remains of a previously harvested crop – known as ‘muri dhan’ in Bangla), the yields keep dropping and such a situation usually does not arise where farmers keep occupying their lands to harvest from the same plant,” Shahidul Islam said. 

It has always been practised in Bangladesh in low lying areas, especially where water comes early, there is no chance for Aus, and sometimes even Aman is uncertain. The ratoon crop is cultivated as a chance crop in some areas to utilise the two months window. 

“If Boro yields six tons of rice, the ratoon or muri dhan will have 1.5/2 tons only. So people have less interest in ratoon crops. Now if someone does this for research, he can do it,” he added. 

According to this scientist, the seed price is still within a limit and our farmers are used to seeding afresh each year, so they won’t have the patience to try a recurring plant. 

“Farmers are now more commercial. Whichever variety yields less they won’t cultivate it again; does not matter if you give them free seeds or fertiliser. Waiting to see [the yield] for the fifth time is impractical because, besides the high labour cost, land is also pricey,” he said. 

“We [BRRI] didn’t do such a research because research has to have a connection with reality, utility, scope, economic viability, feasibility etc. We cannot just do research for research’s sake. I always have to prioritise whether the farmers will accept this or whether they will profit from it. I always have to keep these in mind.” 

Dr Abed, however, said, “The second time the yield reduces, but it increases the third time. The third time yield is much higher than even the first time.” 

He further explained the yield. “Suppose per unit of a plant produces 40 grams of rice and 20 grams the second time. It will produce 50 to 60 grams the third time, 20 grams the fourth time, and finally, 15 grams. This is roughly the picture. This [variety] yields three times higher production than regular separate cultivation of Boro, Aus and Amon.”

What is the science behind this?

Dr Abed’s research has found critics in BARI as well. Requesting anonymity, a senior researcher said that he doesn’t find the findings “very important”. 

This is not an invention, he said. “You should have an idea that when you cut the paddy, sometimes new kushi (young) sprouts around the plant. I am not a rice scientist, but still, it doesn’t look very important and doesn’t need so much limelight.” 

“Also how useful this would be is dubious. We raise different crops between seasons. Our fields hardly remain free. We have little time. We are trying to get to four crops from three crops already. In that case, waiting for another season after cutting rice will definitely yield less than the first one. In that case, it is better for farmers to raise new plants,” he added. 

Dr Abed, however, brought a climate connection to Panchabrihi’s benefits besides stressing on increasing our yields to ensure food security. 

“When you keep on cultivating, it emits greenhouse gas. It releases carbon dioxide and methane. We cut down the Boro and it is a big waste because it could be an extended Aus. You don’t need to do five, do just three, Boro and Aus from the same plant. You can do it and it will be cost-effective, right?” he added. 

Dr Md Abu Bakar Siddique Sarker is the Principal Scientific Officer (PSO) of the Agronomy Division at BRRI. He termed Panchabrihi as ‘observational’. 

“We could see its justification if we had the details. Since we didn’t see this in the research field, commenting on this would be a little difficult. But scientifically, the production of rice is from seed to seed. It means we go back to the field with seeds and return home with seeds as well,” he said. 

This seed-to-seed journey has a life cycle. It completes its life cycle within a given time, starting as seeds and then returning as seeds. 

There are several stages involved in this, including growing of the seedling, kushi (sprouting), panicle initiating (beginning of the reproductive phase), flowering, ripening etc. The last two stages – flowering and ripening –are fixed, which require 50-55 days. 

“What he [Dr Abed] is saying, what is the science behind this? It doesn’t match with the science we do in rice research. He said five-times-rice a year, considering five seasons, it should take 10 months to complete just these two stages [flowering and ripening].”

Now that only two months are remaining, how are other stages being completed in these two months?” Dr Md Abu Bakar said, adding, “If we had the scientific details, it would have been easier for us to comment. Even if you want to make it perennial, can you skip any of the stages I mentioned? No.” 

Praising BRRI, he said, “Sometimes people do things and come into the limelight. But we don’t find them later on. But if you look at the BRRI varieties and technologies, they are actually on the field. With [BRRI] technologies, where we had a 20 lakh metric ton food shortage with seven crore people, now we meet 17 crore people’s food demand with a surplus.”  

Not yet peer-reviewed

The Panchabrihi rice findings, however, are not yet peer-reviewed or published in any journal. But Dr Abed said these will “definitely be peer-reviewed.”

“It has been three years. This is an extraordinary thing,” he said. “I have presented this in IRRI, presented this in Oxford University last week – upholding its scientific validation.” 

“It is in the process of validation and recognition. This is an international standard work. Its validity and recognition will come internationally. However, my publishing something in a journal with a photo doesn’t mean anything. Because most of the peer-reviewed journal materials remain within the paper. I will distribute this to the farmers in Bangladesh for free and its ultimate validation will come from them,” he added. 

He also did not hide his ire for the local scientists. 

“Someone shared with me a Facebook post from a BRRI official who alleged that I don’t talk to them. These are all nonsense that the country’s largest rice research institute is saying,” he said. 

https://www.tbsnews.net/features/panorama/panchabrihi-how-practical-five-yield-year-rice-721922 QR Code

Published Date: October 21, 2023

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